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World's first professor of planetary health appointed

31 October 2016
Forging a path to a sustainable future

The University of Sydney has appointed Dr Tony Capon as the world’s first professor of planetary health.

A public health physician and authority on environmental health and health promotion, Professor Capon’s research focuses on urbanisation, sustainable development and human health.

He has more than two decades of senior leadership and management experience in public health research, education and policy, including as director of the global health institute at United Nations University since 2013.  

Planetary health is founded on the interconnectedness of human and natural systems.

Planetary health

Planetary health is a multi-disciplinary field founded on the interconnectedness of human and natural systems. It recognizes that human advancement and economic development impose heavy burdens on natural systems and that global patterns of human production and consumption are unsustainable.

As a result, the degradation of air, water, and land, together with global warming and associated climate change have seen a consequent loss of biodiversity, declining topsoil and arable land, reduced food security, and a host of extreme weather events that are predicted to worsen.

Through research, education, policy change, alternate investment approaches, and programs such as the Planetary Health Alliance, planetary health advocates are seeking to influence national and international approaches to economic production and development.

“I am delighted to return to Sydney at a time when there is such evident commitment to transdisciplinary research and education at the university. The University of Sydney already has numerous initiatives relevant to planetary health and I am very much looking forward to working with colleagues from across the university,” said Professor Capon.

“As we enter the era of sustainable development, with all countries having signed up to the 17 UN sustainable development goals last year, I am hopeful that the new field of planetary health with help us collectively navigate a pathway to a sustainable future.”

Commenting on Professor Capon’s appointment, Head of the School of Public Health, Associate Professor Joel Negin added: “With the new global challenges we face, a new conception of public health is needed that integrates ecological factors alongside social and political elements – planetary health is a model that charts a future for what public health can and should become.”

Academic Director, Charles Perkins Centre, Professor Stephen Simpson said he was “thrilled” that Professor Capon had joined the University. “We at the Charles Perkins Centre were working with Tony when he was at the United Nations University, aiming to develop and evaluate a conceptual, cross-disciplinary framework for planetary health based on principles from ecological theory. Having him with us physically as well as intellectually will be transformational for that project.”

Professor Capon

A former director of public health and medical officer of health in western Sydney (1991-2006), Professor Capon has held professorial posts at Australian National University (2008-2011) and University of Canberra (2011-2013). 

He was the founding convenor of the climate change adaptation research network for human health in Australia. While based at the University of Sydney’s Australian Health Policy Institute during 2007-2008, he led the international healthy environments programme for the charitable organisation Oxford Health Alliance

Since 2008, Tony has been advising the International Council for Science in the development of a global interdisciplinary science programme on health and wellbeing in the changing urban environment using systems approaches. In 2014, he joined the Rockefeller Foundation—Lancet Commission on Planetary Health

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